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Archive for the ‘Moral Suasion’ Category

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My 2018 journal article, “Desert Rose: Thomas Chalmers’ West Port Experiment (1844-1847),” published in the 2018 edition of The Confessional Presbyterian. Images used by permission. To purchase a copy, click here.

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Figures_Moses_fixes_the_brazen_Serpent_on_a_pole“As to the attendance of the people on the Sabbath ministrations of the missionary, you will doubtless find that they will give you very fair promises. They may all say they will go to church; but by many of them the promises will not be kept. In such circumstances, a very good plan, which I would recommend to you, would be this, — Let either the agent of the district, or some person on whom he can depend, after the hour at which the various churches go in, go to the district where the defaulters, — reside, and entering one of their houses, beg to be allowed to conduct a family exercise, to which the neighbours may be called in. Depend upon it, they will take it very well. They will of course feel themselves caught . . . but still they will tolerate you, and make their escape next Sabbath, by going to the place of worship. That’s one of a variety of doing the thing. It will bring them in contact with the gospel at any rate. The great matter is to get them into the habit of church-going.”

-Thomas Chalmers, 1844 lecture on the eve of the West Port Experiment

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“He would bend over the pulpit,” said one of [Thomas Chalmers’] old hearers, “and press us to take the gift, as if he held it that moment in his hand, and would not be satisfied till every one of us had got possession of it. And often when the sermon was over, and the psalm was sung, and he rose to pronounce the blessing, he would break out afresh with some new entreaty, unwilling to let us go until he had made one more effort to persuade us to accept of it.”

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“Some Highland Evangelicals (in the 18th century) resorted to coercive tactics to compel people to hear their message. A mild example was Walter Ross’ confiscation of the cooking utensils in a fishing village that repeatedly emptied of its suspicious inhabitants when he approached. He returned the pots and pans after entertaining the villagers at a meal two days later. At that time they promised to receive his visits and to attend church.”

-Stephen A. Woodruff, The Pastoral Ministry in the Church of Scotland, p. 242

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Below is an extract from an upcoming journal article I’m writing on Thomas Chalmers’ territorial (parochial) method of outreach.

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The method also capitalizes on the power of moral influence. Now, as we have seen already, the very doctrinal keystone of Chalmers’ model was the stern, Calvinist doctrine of human depravity. Attraction might work, if men were not half bad. But as they are altogether bad – spiritually speaking – there must be aggression. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the aggression must be gentle. The laborer must go among the people and “ingratiate” himself in their affections by his manifest care for them, body and soul, parents and children:

… he is to watch every opportunity, to go to them especially at those seasons when, through sickness or death in their houses, their hearts are peculiarly open and susceptible to impressions from one who comes to them in the character of a friend and comforter, as interesting himself in the education of their families, and by a thousand nameless offices and topics of introduction by which you may make a pretext or a reason occasion of visiting them: and you will infallibly, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, meet with a cordial welcome from this alienated population.

This aggression is the force of moral suasion, or as he wrote elsewhere, the “omnipotence of Christian charity.” That the people are thus susceptible highlights Chalmers’ convictions of a certain abiding goodness in human nature, which the territorial method exploits. It may not always result in conversion, but it should very well restore a population to regular church attendance – a more hopeful prelude to conversion.

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Here is a delightful vignette of old parish ‘missions,’ if you will, in 17th century Presbyterian Scotland.  The minister, William Guthrie (1620-1665), labored to be all things to all men, that he might gain some.

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“After William Guthrie came to Fenwick, many of the people were so rude and barbarous, that they never attended upon divine worship, and knew not so much as the face of their pastor. To such, everything that respected religion was disagreeable; many refused to be visited or catechised by him; they would not even admit him into their houses. To such he sometimes went in the evening disguised in the character of a traveller, and sought lodging, which he could not even obtain without much entreaty, but, having obtained it, he would engage in some general amusing conversation at first, and then ask them how they liked their minister. When they told him that they did not go to church, he engaged them to go and take a trial; others he hired with money to go. When the time of family worship came, he desired to know if they made any, and if not, what reasons they had for it.

(more…)

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